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Gear Guy

How can I protect my pack when flying?

Can you recommend a sturdy sack that will protect a backpack (with tent and sleeping pad strapped on) when it's checked as luggage on an airplane? David Oakland, California

A: Sure, several. I've always felt that a duffel bag is a good solution to traveling with a backpack that doesn't have tuck-away shoulder straps and hip belts, the main feature that sets travel packs apart from their trail-oriented counterparts. You take along a big duffel, and just stuff your backpack inside when boarding a plane or train. When carrying the pack, the duffel then folds down nicely to stow inside. Plus, the duffel provides some extra packing room should you need it for souvenirs or something.

Most any good-quality duffel will serve this purpose. I'm a big fan of the Adventure Duffels that L.L. Bean makes. Very sturdy, comfortable carrying handles, big wide zipper for stuffing in massive loads. The "large" size holds 5,800 cubic inches, enough for anything but a monster pack, and sells for $49. The extra-large ($59) holds 8,830 cubic inches-enough for an expedition-sized pack, a case of beer, and a small child. The only drawback to the Bean bags is that they're so sturdily made they don't necessarily smash down into all that small a space.

More compressible, albeit less rugged, are duffels from Outdoor Products. That company's extra-large duffel is about the same size as the Bean large model, and sells for $30. You'll need to purchase an add-on shoulder harness for carrying it valise-style, but it does have D rings installed for that purpose.

Bon voyage!

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